Saturday, April 22, 2017

Joy in Spite of the Scars

John 20:19-31
Easter 2 / Holy Humor
April 23, 2017
William G. Carter

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

On a day like this, everybody is a comedian. Like the guy who said this week, “My New Year’s resolution is to exercise religiously. So I’m going to the gym on Easter and Christmas, and then I’ll be done.”

Or the choir director who announced there were available openings in the choir. She said, “If God has given you a beautiful voice, this is your opportunity to praise him. If not, this is your chance to get even.”

I like the minister who stood up one Sunday and announced, “My good people, I brought three different sermons with me today. The hundred dollar sermon lasts five minutes. The fifty dollar sermon lasts fifteen minutes. The twenty dollar sermon lasts a full hour. So if the ushers would come forward to take the offering, we will discover which one I will deliver.”

Now, I would never introduce it that way, but as they say, everybody is a comedian. Even Jesus seems to get into the spirit of the proceedings. He comes back, not once but twice. And the second time, he stuns Thomas and the others by revealing that he has been listening to the doubts even when he has been invisibly out of sight. “Hey Thomas,” he says, “how about these nail prints?” It would be funny, except for the very obvious detail – the Risen Christ still has scars.

That’s not how he looked in my children’s Bible. According to the artist who painted him, when the Lord returned after Easter, he was glistening. Shiny, even translucent, and otherworldly. When I flipped through the pages, I could tell that resurrection was a little bit weird. OK, it was very weird. Yet Jesus seemed patched up pretty well. The blood stains were gone. He was wearing a bright white robe, and didn’t look one bit like a gardener. And I’m pretty sure his hands, feet, and side were all healed.

But according to the Bible, the Risen Christ has scars.

Maybe that shouldn’t surprise us. Anybody who is alive has scars. Do you have a good scar? I mean, somewhere where you can show it in public?

I have a little scar right here, hidden by my eyebrow. My folks had a coffee table with sharp edges. In fact, Mom still has it. I had a Fisher Price duck on wheels that I pulled around the room. Somehow the duck and the cord that I pulled always got stuck under that coffee table. So, one day I crawled beneath the table to untangle the cord. I was successful, so I threw my head back in rejoicing – and ended up getting three stitches above my eye.

There’s a scar on my left leg, a big scar that had a lot more stitches. That was the day I learned a good lesson: never climb on a swing set after you have been stomping around in the mud. Every scar tells a story!

And then there’s the scar on my tongue. That one came about two weeks after my high school graduation. I should have been wearing a seat belt, and the friend next to me should not have been lighting firecrackers from the cigarette lighter in the car. My parent’s perfectly good Dodge wrapped itself around a large oak tree.

Everybody has some scars, including some hidden scars that others might not see. Each scar comes with a story, and probably a lesson or two. Anybody who lives has some scars.

But here’s the thing I wonder: if you have scars, can you live?

You can call him “Doubting Thomas,” but it would be more accurate to call him Realistic Thomas. Whenever he speaks up in the Gospel of John, Thomas asks the earthy question or speaks the obvious truth. Jesus says, “Let’s go to my friend Lazarus, who has died.” Thomas knows what is at stake. He says, “We will go and die with him.” (11:16)

Or at the last supper, Jesus is bouncing metaphors off the walls, like rubber balls. He says, “You know the way where I am going.” Thomas says, “What are you talking about? How do we know the way?” (14:5)

So when Thomas returns on Easter evening and hears that the others have just seen the Risen Lord, he says to them, “I’m not going to believe a word of it until I can touch his scars with my finger.” He probably didn’t believe it would ever happen, because the kind of scars that Jesus had didn’t lend themselves to a healthy life.

And then Jesus comes back again . . . with the scars. Do you think that’s possible?

The comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife just a year ago. Her name was Michelle. She was a writer. She was working on a book, writing lots of words late into the night. Michelle was exhausted. Patton said, “Honey, go to bed, get some rest, sleep in tomorrow.” Unknown to both of them, she had a serious heart condition, and the next morning, she never woke up. It was just one of those random, unexpected things.

It’s been a hard year of grief for him. He is a single parent now, had to rethink his work life. There’s been a lot of support from friends. And as a comedian, he says a lot of his act is now drawing upon the emotional scars of losing his wife. “I’ve learned to be really honest,” he notes, “and the honesty leads me into some really funny things.”

His hard earned wisdom is that you can’t rush through the journey of grief. He remembers a line from the movie “Magnolia” – ‘I’m through with the past, but the past isn’t through with you.” That is exactly what it is, says Oswalt. “You can say you’re through with grief all you want, but grief will let you know when it’s done.”[1]

In the meantime, he has decided to be fully alive. “What I’m living on now is comedy, of the most absurd kind. I need it. I’m watching old Steve Martin TV specials. He was like our American Monty Python, where it’s just the dumbest (stuff) you can think of . . . I need that.”[2]

We all need it – to tap into the reality of joy and the fullness of life, in spite of our scars. Maybe that's why some of the funniest people we can ever know are those who have lived through a whole lot of pain, and they are so alive that they can tell about it.

What the church announces is two truths that must be held together: the Easter Christ is full of life and he is scarred. Easter does not remove his wounds; they are real. But Easter is the life of God which does not allow the wounds to define him.

Ask somebody who has spent time with one of our wounded warriors. See the amputee who didn’t know he was walking into land mines. And sometime later there he is, big smile, cracking a couple of jokes. He is proud to serve his country, and we are proud of him, too. And there’s more Easter life at work in him than all his wounds with all their stories.

Philip Yancey wrote a book some years ago called The Jesus I Never Knew. In the book, he admits he always wondered:

Why did Jesus keep the scars from his crucifixion?  Presumably he could have had any resurrected body he wanted, and yet he chose one identifiable mainly by the scars that could be seen and touched. Why?”         

The story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus. When human beings fantasize, we dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and sexy ideal shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, [the pre-existent heavenly Jesus,] being confined in a skeleton and human skin was the unnatural state. The scars are, to him, an emblem of life on our planet, a permanent re-minder of those days of confinement and suffering. [3]

And then Yancey says,

I take hope in Jesus’ scars. From the perspective of heaven, they represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe.  Even that event, though - the crucifixion – Easter turned into a memory. Because of Easter, I can hope that the tears we shed, the blows we receive, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones, all these will become memories, like Jesus’ scars.  Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer . . . We will have a new start, an Easter start.”[4]

All of us have our scars, because we have lived a human life. It’s the Easter dimension of life that transcends all the scars.

This is what the Gospel of John wants us to see, wants us to trust. For if we trust that Christ is alive, then we will share in his Easter life. If we trust that he loves us, that he loves the whole world, then we will receive joy and peace, forgiveness and purpose – just as he said.

According to the story, the whole Gospel of John has been waiting for Thomas to look at Jesus and say, “My Lord and my God. Ever since chapter one, when Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46), we have seen something good has come. God has come on two legs, breathing, speaking, healing, the Word made flesh. And even after he is crucified, he comes back, full of grace and truth … light and life.

So we marvel at these mysteries: light out of darkness, joy in spite of scars, life where death once reigned, and the God who continues to make a new creation through Christ. A new creation! That reminds me of a little story that was left out of the Book of Genesis. Fortunately for you, it provides the perfect ending:

God was talking to one of the angels and said, “I just figured out how to spin the Earth so it creates this really incredible twenty-four-hour period of alternating light and darkness.”

The angel said, “What are you going to do now?”

God said, “Call it a day.”[5]

(c) William G. Carter, except for the pieces that have been plundered from other sources.

[3] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), p.219
[4] ibid.
[5] Thanks to the Rev. Jim Thyren, who wrote a sermon on this text and theme that was so fine that it could not be improved upon, only emulated. If his sermon resembles this one, there is probably a good reason for that. But I don’t know what it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment